Have you been enjoying DWT the last few weeks? I’ve been writing it from Paris. I just got home. It’s tough to write 5 posts a day while you’re on vacation... in Paris! But I rented a beautiful old townhouse in Montmartre from a French writer and the house is filled with books and art and writer vibes and my office was right off a huge, second story veranda with a fantastic hanging garden where birds were frolicking like they owned the place. Anyway, I just got home and I want to continue the momentum we’ve helping to build for Randy Bryce. If you’re a regular DWT reader, you heard about him way before he announced he was running for Paul Ryan’s seat and way before he became a media darling. When we first started writing about him, he had 6,000 twitter followers. Last time I looked, before I got on the flight home, @IronStache had just crossed the 90,000 mark! He’s really catching on-- and the DCCC is panicking that Ryan may be facing a real challenge in 2018, something Pelosi has always been able to fight off in the past. In fact, on Monday Randy even made it into GQ-- an interview by Jack Moore, the kind of publicity neither money nor the DCCC’s venal anti-progressive press department can buy.
“Last week,” wrote Moore, “the Internet, and America met and fell in love with iron worker Randy Bryce, a Wisconsin man who is running for Congress. His campaign's launch video went viral and made his intentions clear: He wants to take down Paul Ryan in 2018. An Army veteran during the Cold War ("Ronald Reagan was president at the time, and we were trained to protect the country against the Soviets, and now here we have Donald Trump inviting the top Russian spy into the Oval Office. It just blows my mind!"), Bryce is running on a platform that aggressively champions blue collar issues. We got to chat with the man known as @IronStache on Twitter-- where he's now facing all the scrutiny that comes with being a public figure-- and ask him some questions about what he stands for and where he thinks, not just the Democratic party, but the country as a whole needs to go.
How did you get into public service? What made you want to run for office?
Well it pretty much stemmed from when Scott Walker took over in Wisconsin in 2011. I had always been involved with workers' issues, even before Scott Walker was elected, but more so after I saw what he was going to do. We had an idea from when he was county executive, based on how he treated the county workers, that he was not going to be a friend to working people. So I got more involved with [what was] going on in Madison, and then the next round of elections, minority leader Peter Barca approached me and asked if I would run for state assembly. I was like, “I never did anything like this before, but I’ll give it a shot,” not really knowing what I was getting into.
So I’ve read you lost your first two state-level runs…
Yeah, so I came to find out there was a lady, Melissa Lemke, who was already running for the Assembly who had the support of the local county party. So here I was running against somebody that I genuinely liked and agreed with all their positions. It just seemed to be a little snafu due to them trying to get as many people to run as possible. So I wasn’t successful in the primary running against her. She was an Emerge graduate and I mean, just worked her tail off and did a really good job.
I learned a lot from that and then in 2014 I was asked by State Senator Wirch to run for state senate. And after learning some lessons in the assembly, I said, “Have you looked at this district? It’s horrible. It’s one of the most gerrymandered districts in Wisconsin.” And he was like “yeah, but there’s this John Doe thing [*Ed. note: An investigation into Scott Walker’s campaign*) that’s going to blow up, and we want to have a good candidate in place in case it does.” So I figured it would give me a good opportunity to also get out my message and help Mary Burke in her run for Governor. You know, it would mean more people on the ground, knocking doors and what not. And that was unsuccessful. I didn’t win that one.
So after two less than ideal results, what made you decide to dive back in against Paul Ryan?
So you know Paul Ryan did very well in his last election, and there wasn’t a lot of money raised for the Democrats, so people were starting to approach me, saying they needed a good candidate. And I was flattered they were asking me, but I wanted to think about it... So I did think about it. And you know I’ve lived in the district my entire life, and being a veteran, seeing how veterans are being affected by decisions in Washington… And then they pulled this health care garbage. And with all the good-paying auto jobs leaving Janesville, leaving Kenosha, and the factory jobs going to Canada from Waukesha, I was like, this is really crappy. I’ve spent my time as an iron worker literally building this area, while Paul Ryan is out there taking stuff away from us. People here are working harder and getting less as a result. But he’s not even around. It’s been over 600 days since he’s held a local town hall. It’s just horrible. He’s not doing his job. We need somebody who cares.
Obviously, right now everyone is talking about health care. What’s your platform on it?
Well, I like the protections that Obamacare put in place, but I want to work towards universal health care. And look, you hear people say that and then do one thing at a time. But first I want to make sure people are covered and have something going on. To be honest with you, there are things about Obamacare that need to be fixed. From the building trade standpoint, we’ve been self-insured, but we were penalized with the “Cadillac tax” for having it. And I don’t think people who have been doing the right thing should be penalized. So there are things that I see that could be corrected with it. But that emergency room plan that we had wasn’t the answer. If you have somebody who doesn’t have health care and can’t see somebody when they notice something’s wrong, and have it addressed when it’s a minor issue, they’re going to wait until it’s a big thing and they’ll end up going to the emergency room. Well if they can’t afford to go see a doctor for preventive care, how in the heck can we expect them to pay the extra fees at the emergency room? So we need protections. We need to not penalize people for having pre-existing conditions. The system is extremely flawed now, and there’s no reason why every single person, should not have some form of health care.
Opioid addiction is obviously a huge problem nationwide, and I’d imagine in an industry like yours that requires so much physical labor, you see a lot of it. How do you see the intersection of that problem and the health care crisis were already going through?
Look, I can’t remember where I read this, or even the exact numbers, but if you look at the amount of opioids that are prescribed worldwide, a huge percentage of them is right here in the United States. And I think that’s also a reflection of not being able to see a doctor for check-ups. That shows me that when something’s wrong or someone gets hurt they can’t afford to get treatment so it’s like, “Here’s something to ease the pain.” And I think it’s something that’s ingrained in our culture. We don’t get checked-up regularly. I know I don’t and I know a lot of people I work with don’t. They’re like, “Well, I’d have to take off work, which means we lose money, and then the doctor is going to cost us more money that we really can’t afford.” So it’s an entire culture of wellness we need to work on.
As a veteran, what changes would you like to see in the way we treat our soldiers returning home?
Well, they’re trying to privatize the VA, which is not the way to go. There are some things that need to be looked at and addressed, but it just blows my mind the amount of money they spend to send us to war… The amount of money they spend to blow other countries up… The amount of money the government spends to rebuild other countries, and then how little they spend on us once we come back and return to civilian life. It’s like they don’t care about us unless we’re dodging bullets for them. That’s when we stop being soldiers for them. If they can afford to send us to war, then they can afford to take care of us when we come home.
The Democrats have been in a bit of a soul searching period, and one of the major talking points has been why Hillary wasn’t able to reach the white working class. As an iron worker, where do you feel the future of the Democratic party lies and how do you see yourself fitting into it?
Well, I would point you to our campaign launch to give you an example of where I think the Democratic party needs to go. We need more people like us running for office. More people like us to represent ourselves. That seems to be the big thing. The feedback I’ve been getting is, “It’s so great to see one of us running for office.” I think that’s the key, because we need working people making decisions for working people.
Can you talk about the response to your campaign launch video? It seemed to blow up in a huge way.
Yeah. Within 24 hours, we had raised over $100,000. And that’s not even making a phone call and asking for anything. And the thing that I’m really proud are the number of donors, over 30,000 people and the average contribution is under $30. Because I know how hard it is to earn money these days. Just seeing that it’s not a lot of rich people donating money so they can try to tell me what to do. It’s other working people sending like an hour’s worth of pay from wherever they live. And that means so much.
Also, I don’t really watch The View but I heard Whoopi gave me a shout out. And I was on with Lawrence [O’Donnell] and Don Lemon. I mean the way it took off was just beyond my wildest expectations.
I have to ask about the “Iron Stache” thing. Where’d the nickname come from?
It’s kind of a thing that came up when I was talking about doing social media with a friend. He was saying I should really get on Twitter. And I figured I should give it a shot. I mean, why not? And people have always made comments, calling me Iron Man or whatever, you know being an iron worker, and then the 'stache was always brought up. So it was like a hybrid… silly combination of the two. So I said, “What about Iron Stache?” and he was immediately like “Go with it! That’s gold!”
And then we were talking, too. You know, like should we come up with a different campaign thing. Like Randy Bryce for Congress. And I was like, no. I’m me. I’m not changing anything. I’m going to be genuine, and if people don’t like it, then they don’t like it. Then it won’t go over. But it’s part of me. And you know, I’ve seen so many comments like, “The dude’s twitter handle is IronStache, he’s got my vote already!” So it’s fun.